Total War: Shogun 2 is still worth your time (even if you suck at it)
I’m an awful military strategist. I guess I’ve always known that. When I was a kid I was regularly schooled by my older brother in games such as Stratego, Intellivision Sea Battle and Risk. I originally attributed this to the notion that Matt was just smarter than me; I mean, what kind of nine-year-old understands the futility of waging a two front war in Europe? How could I expect to win against that when my strategy began and ended with placing my entire army on Japan because that’s where Godzilla was?
I know now that I surely kept losing because I just have no brain for military strategy. I can handle it when I’m controlling one character at a time ala Fire Emblem or Phantom of the Kill, but if you give me an entire battalion and expect me to keep them fed, happy, and in the right formation for defending a wooded hill from attack, forget it. Just take my flag.
This saddens me as a gamer, but more directly it saddens me as a huge fan of Total War: Shogun 2. My interest in real-time strategy games has been fleeting, dictated more by the time period than gameplay. I used to be all about castles, so I toyed around with games such as Castles II: Seige and Conquest and Stronghold back in my youth. These days—thanks to games such as Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 on the 3DS and books like Child of Vengeance—I’m more about the Warring States and Tokugawa Periods of Japan.
As such, at the beginning of this summer I requested a late review copy of Total War: Shogun 2 from Feral Interactive, which they were kind enough to provide.
The game has been available for Mac for two years, but I never reviewed it because I simply wasn’t qualified to do so. May I remind you of my illogical and suicidal need to defend Godzilla?
This summer, however, I took a different approach. With no need to complete the game quickly for a timely review, I have been able to be patient with my lessons. I played through some of the tutorials multiple times in an effort to apply their techniques to other battles. It was like high school algebra in that regard; show me an example problem and I’m good, but ask me to apply that process to another slightly different problem and forget it. Just take my flag and hand me a dagger for seppuku.
The analogy breaks down at the toolset, though (not to mention the whole ritual suicide thing). In algebra, I only needed a pencil to complete the task at hand. With a game like Total War: Shogun 2, there are myriad tools available to you, and knowing what to apply when (or even how to get to it) can be overwhelming.
You’ve got two learning curves to overcome—strategy and game mechanics—and that’s frustrating early on. There’s an in-game manual, but nothing to hold your hand as you progress. Online strategy guides offer nothing more than basic tips at best, so something like the BradyGames Guide may be the way to go if you want to expedite your mastery of a game. I didn’t. I maybe should. There’s still time.
There’s one other element of Total War: Shogun 2 that can hamper your progress: your own ethics. Games like this are as much about governing, after all, as they are about killing, and this means you’ll need to lie, connive and betray your way to victory. You can no sooner become ruler of feudal Japan by being benevolent than you can expect to become POTUS without selling your soul (and the souls of your constituents) to corporate America. Just tell yourself it’s for the good of the country. If you’re lucky, you’ll even start to believe that.
Taking all of this into account, Total War: Shogun 2 provides a deep, enjoyable experience once you get the hang of it. Gamers often talk about how much more satisfying victories are when they’re difficult to achieve, and that’s largely bunk; there’s nothing fun about playing the same level or fighting the same boss over and over and over again. But Total War: Shogun 2 provides a different kind of challenge and victory. Winning a battle the first time because you know what to do and when to do it—as opposed to simply “trial-and-erroring” your way to victory—is what makes the time-sink worthwhile. Going back to my algebra analogy, it’s like acing an exam (or at least getting a C, which was about as high as I got) after, you know, studying.
Except that with Total War Shogun 2, the studying is fun. Trust me, I’ve been doing it all summer, and I’ll keep doing it. Who knows? Maybe by the time I’m done I’ll be able to apply what I’ve learned to achieve glorious victory in Risk. Matt will never know what hit him.